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Cambridge 2009 Keynote: Approaches to Materials Teaching for the 21st Century

Prof Mike Ashby | University of Cambridge

Cambridge 2009 Keynote: Approaches to Materials Teaching for the 21st Century

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We live in a time of change. There is the increasingly computer-dominated setting of engineering design. There are new economic pressures. There is concern for the environment, for energy availability and for the smooth running of the materials supply chain. There are the older priorities of performance, safety and integrity. Our students need an education that conditions them to deal with these changes, one that we have to provide at a time when increasing student numbers and expectations, and greater competition for teaching resources puts staff ? particularly younger staff ? under great pressure. This symposium is an opportunity to explore and discuss innovative ways of adapting to the new influences and dealing with the pressures in the particular context of the teaching of materials. Materials teaching, traditionally, has been science-led, using the traditional lecture plus laboratory environment. The starting point is that of the physicist and the chemist: the structure of the atom, of assemblies of atoms, of crystals, the thermodynamics of alloys and compounds, the kinetics of phase change, and the ways these explain the properties of matter. The success of this approach can be seen in the extraordinary development of Materials Science in the last century. But it may not be the best way to introduce materials to students of Engineering (who outnumber those of Materials Science by a factor of more than 20 to 1). Engineers make things. They make them out of materials. What do engineering students need to know to choose and use materials safely, economically and in ways that do not harm the environment? This points to a design-led rather than a science-led approach to teaching, one that starts from the often complex requirements of a design, and equips the student with the knowledge, data and tools to make informed choices. This is not to neglect the science ? it forms part of the necessary knowledge ? but rather it introduces the science as it appears as natural background to the understanding of design-limiting properties, rather than as a discipline in its own right with no immediate links to the 'making' aspect of engineering. The design-led approach has formed the basis of our teaching for some years; it has prove to be a successful way of engaging and holding the interest of engineering students in materials. This talk introduces some of the developments with which we have been involved and acts as an introduction to the talks that follow. The topics include the use of self-teaching both as a way of stimulating learning and a help in dealing with large student numbers. Projects engage the interest of engineering students. Professor Brechet and Dr Norman will report on his extensive use of project-based teaching and the links it can provide with industry. Many aspects of engineering education now make extensive use of computer-based methods: CAD packages and FE tools are a routine part of any Engineering program. Facility with such packages is seen as a qualification that students take with them when they graduate, but the standard tools of this sort do not provide help with material or process information and selection. The CES Edu system is an attempt to fill this gap by providing software-based tools that allow students easy access to material information and the ability to select materials to meet realistic design requirements. The CES Edu package is now used in many different departments in some 450 Universities world-wide. Dr. Veer will describe its introduction into the teaching program of the large Architecture department at the University of Delft. Dr Claire Davis will explain its incorporation into the revised program of Materials teaching at the University of Birmingham. Dr. Shercliff will tell us about the use of the design-led approach and property charts to introduce students to thermo-mechanical and other processing of materials. In Cambridge it is now used to introduce Engineering students to materials at the start of their first year, and deployed in a variety of ways throughout the 4 year program in a number of Cambridge departments, both for teaching and project work. My own talk will introduce briefly some of the new features of the package. CES itself evolves via an ongoing development program, with a new release in February of each year. The changes and new features are driven in two ways, one pro-active (such as the development of the Eco tool and the Eco-audit facility), the other reactive, in response to feedback from users ? it is this that has driven all the developments to make the software intuitive and easy to use. This Symposium is an opportunity to share new ideas and experiences of Materials teaching and the effective use of the CES software. We are particularly keen to gather further user-reactions, both relating to content (the databases) and functionality, something I hope the Symposium will provide.